I wasn't wrong. That's all Remus can think. He was real. It ought to be difficult to get his head round, but the truth is that telling himself that the Sirius he knew wasn't real, never loved him or James, never meant any of the things he whispered or the sounds he made- that was always harder to accept. Relinquishing it feels like a release, being unbound, finally breaking through a door. A release, but not a victory. Remus is too tired for victories, and how could it be a victory when he could never really make himself believe it?
The boy he knew- the boy he loved- was real. But Sirius isn't that boy anymore, and Remus is no longer the same person who loved him. Even after baths, countless haircuts, and months of (reasonably) solid meals, Sirius still looks like the kind of man that children run away from in the street. Azkaban seems to have worn away everywhere his features were softened by the slightest excess, a lingering trace of baby fat here, a slightly rounded forehead there. He is sparse, has only as much muscle as he needs to survive, and where there is no muscle, bone. He looks like an animal clothed. A wolf in sheep's clothing. Remus smiles in spite of himself.
Looking after Sirius means that he doesn't have to talk to Sirius, not all the time. It's only nights like these when Remus allows himself to stop thinking of endless ways to fill the time, cooking, scanning the Prophet without knowing what it is he's looking for, trying to get Sirius to read Improving Books for no good reason, trying to get Padfoot's hairs off the sofa. It's getting dark, both outside and in, and as if by some unspoken signal, they've both just stopped. There's a half-empty bottle of wine on the coffee table, and a half-drunk glass in each of their hands. Sirius, unused to wine after twelve years without, and with every scrap of body fat eaten away, rests his head on Remus' shoulder, and there he is, that boy, just for a second. Remus tilts his head to look down at him. His mind is fuzzy with exhaustion and stained at the edges with the embrace of the wine.
'You don't do that anymore.'
Sirius pulls himself up to look into Remus' eyes. 'Why not?'
Remus is running dangerously low on wine. 'That was what the old Sirius did, Marauder Sirius, Hogwarts Sirius, drop-the-Dungbombs-and-run-before-McGonagall-sees-us Sirius. That Sirius was the one I fell in love with. But he isn't the one I love now.'
Sirius takes a swig of his wine and says, 'You don't get so… flappy anymore.'
'A whole new man, then.'
'Remember the train when we first met? Frilly knickers, with little Snitches?'
There's a pause in which Sirius drains the last of his wine and reaches for the bottle, refilling both their glasses. 'Neither of us are the same person. So how come we still…'
Love each other.
'We were never going to stay the same, though, were we? The only difference is we never got to say goodbye.'
Sirius raises his glass. Remus realises suddenly how late it is. They've been sitting here drinking for hours. It can't be far off dawn. 'Friends…lovers… we are gathered here today in remembrance of a rakish young wag named Sirius Black, and his bookish but surprisingly filthy-minded young pet werewolf. Though their hair may have been free of grey, their bodies perfect specimens of youth, their libidos more or less entirely unsuppressable- yea, though we may mourn their passing- we must celebrate also the future of the new improved Sirius and Remus, Real Men who have passed through the Valley of Death and out the other side. In the nude and with streamers coming out their arses.'
They clink glasses. 'To us', says Remus, 'old and new. And to the years of Grown-Up Shagging lasting more than two minutes apiece in our shining, doddery future.'
They kiss. The taste of wine mingles in their mouths.